Key indicators to monitor
sustainable tourism development
Monitoring is a "must"
The typical European tourism product depends to a large extent on
the sustainable development of destinations. The vast majority of
tourists are looking for intact nature, beautiful landscapes and
a rich cultural heritage; they want a clean and healthy environment
and they want to enjoy a socially friendly climate. In fact there
is a strong link between sustainability and quality: most issues
such as low noise, less traffic, clean air and water, rich culture
and bio-diversity, are the focal points of sustainability strategies
and crucial for the quality of destinations.
Tourism itself also plays a positive or negative role in the context
of sustainability. It consumes non-renewable resources such as land,
water and energy; tourism transport generates noise and air pollution
and contributes increasingly to global warming and tourism may also
seriously affect the social and economic welfare of local communities.
For tourism businesses it does not make much sense to invest a lot
of money into reducing their environmental impact and raising quality
when, at the same time, the whole destination is losing its attractiveness.
These are the main reasons why the partners of the European LIFE
project “VISIT” developed and tested indicators for sustainability
in tourism destinations which shall allow to extend the concept of
sustainability in tourism to the level of destinations. Friends of
Nature International together with ARPAER have been entrusted with
this work. The results below shall help tourism destinations
to introduce both an indicator system and an Environmental Management
System in order to make their tourism product more sustainable. Tourism
authorities, local administrations and experts dealing with sustainable
regional development policy and tourism sector management can use
the indicators to introduce appropriate measures and to monitor the
level and progress of sustainability in their destination
The concept of sustainable development has become the focus
of political, economic and social strategies, since economies
have come up against the limits set by the natural environment
(its “carrying capacity”). This happened,
for example, at the beginning of industrialisation, when
industry used a lot of wood to produce energy thus endangering
the existence of forests especially in Europe. It was
at that time that forestry developed the concept of sustainable
planting and harvesting of woods. In 1975, the Club of
Rome published its famous report, “Limits to growth”,
demonstrating that the resources on which our industrial
economies primarily depend, such as oil, gas or coal,
may be exhausted within the 21st century. In 1987, the
Brundtland Report to the World Commission on Environment
and Development, “Our Common Future”, for
the first time mentioned “sustainable development” at
the global level as “a development that meets the
needs of present generations without compromising the
ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.
The World Summits of Rio de Janeiro (1992) and Johannesburg
(2002) have agreed on an action plan to implement the
concept of sustainability on global and local level (Agenda
21). Sustainable development should become a focal point
of economic, social and environmental management, but
include also the cultural and institutional dimension.
Sustainability stands for finding satisfying ways of
life for all within the capacity of the planet now and
in the future.
Essentially, the concept of sustainable development tries to
cope with three important problems: the issue of an increasing
depletion of non-renewable resources, the issue of overexploiting
renewable resources and nature and the issue of equity between
people or nations. The latter means, that the depletion and
overexploitation of resources and nature by the industrialised
part of the world reduces not only the chances of future generations,
but also that of other parts of the world. We propose to call
these three issues the sustainability problems.
Sustainable development is a political concept for the balanced
development of societies on the basis of the available natural
and human resources on our planet. The implementation of sustainable
development requires integrated strategies whereby we try to
reduce the use of non-renewable resources, to safeguard nature
and earth as our only living base and to realise more global
justice and equity in the use of and access to those natural
How can we assign sustainability to a certain territory,
person or activity?
What does sustainability mean in practical terms for
individuals, for tourism businesses, for villages or towns? How much
energy, how much land is available for the individual? How many kilometres
per year are we allowed to travel by plane or by car? How much water
should a tourist consume?
Unfortunately there is no specific answer to any of these questions.
Even if we had a precise eco allowance, e.g. annual maximum amount
of CO2 emissions, for every person on our planet, and if we knew
the sum total of resources, e.g. raw materials or energy, we use,
or the sum total of pollutants we emit into the environment, there
would be little sense in allocating specified, individual consumption
or pollution rights. First of all, because living conditions on our
planet differ substantially. In a northern country, such as Norway,
more energy must be used for heating than, for instance, in Spain.
Secondly, because we live in a world characterised by different availability
of resources (the free market and the proviso for relative wealth
on individual and community bases) Thirdly, because we are unable
to estimate how much or how little future generations will consume.
We know that certain resources and raw materials, such as oil
or coal, are being rapidly depleted, because annual consumption is
constantly increasing. We know that our fish stocks are dwindling,
that water and soil are contaminated and many important species are
threatened by extinction. We know that the global atmosphere will
continue to heat up, if we fail to reduce the emission of greenhouse
gases. We know that even now it would be impossible for the entire
world population to indulge in the wasteful lifestyles of people
living, for example, in the industrialised countries. If we fail
to respond to these pressures in good time, we shall drift from environmental
crisis to crisis with our eyes open. What we face are global sustainability
problems, which have to be solved by all of us – inter alia
by the tourism community.
The solution needs not necessarily lie in “giving things up“,
it lies in re-setting our course: by using energy from renewable
sources instead of oil and coal, by using less land area thanks to
better land-use planning and better organisation of our economic
activities, by reducing waste, etc.
Added to these global problems are local sustainability problems,
which arise from the situation of a given destination. For example,
if islands or southern destinations have not enough drinking water,
they are faced with a sustainability problem, even if sufficient
water resources may be available somewhere else. The same goes for
all the other ‘stationary’ resources, such as land or
So there are sustainability problems that arise from global development
and others, which are rooted in the limits to local environments.